A decade after solar flares tore apart the ozone layer, turning Earth into a barely liveable irradiated hothouse, engineer Finch Weinberg (Tom Hanks) ekes out a living in his St. Louis laboratory, his only companions his dog, Goodyear, and a cute little helper robot he’s cobbled together named Dewey. It’s clear that Finch hasn’t clapped eyes on another human in years, although he’s a self-sufficient fixer who has made a comfortable if lonely life for himself.
But Finch is dying, and he knows that looking after Goodyear is well beyond Dewey’s programming, and so he builds a humanoid robot with the aim of teaching it how to care for the mutt after he has passed on. However, an approaching mega-storm that will pretty much wipe St. Louis off the map has stepped up the timetable. Finch, Dewey, Goodyear, and the robot, who will eventually name himself Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones in mocap) pile into Finch’s heavily modified RV and head off for San Francisco, where they might just be safe, and on the way, Finch tries to teach Jeff about life, the universe, and the proper care of canis domesticus.
Look, I could watch Tom Hanks hang out with his dog and his robots for days. Finch doesn’t quite fall into the cozy catastrophe subgenre of apocalyptic fiction, but it’s close — it’s a procedural in the sense that the main joys come from seeing Finch encounter problems and think his way through them. Couple that with Hanks’ careworn humanity being counterbalanced by Jones’ wide-eyed (metaphorically speaking) A. I. innocence, and you’ve got a pretty charming movie about the inevitability of death and the notion of legacy — what we leave behind when we move on.
The core theme here is stewardship; in Finch, we as a species have clearly failed in our larger duty to care for the planet (although a nuclear or environmental holocaust would have underpinned that notion far better than the cosmic snake eyes that is a solar storm), but Finch is driven to care for his dog, desperately trying to put in place a system that will outlive him. That system is in effect a person, but a non-human one and the arc of the film is Jeff’s arc as he learns to “live” under Finch’s tutelage.
It’s a rather old-fashioned feeling sci-fi. The story could have been lifted from any number of paperback reprints of New Wave stories I read in high school, and the thrust of inquiry is not technological innovation, but emotional response — how does this guy in these weird circumstances carry on? There are no major revelations, no big twists or brain-melting ideas — it’s a sci-fi character study. Director Miguel Sapochnik, who has worked in prestige TV on stuff like Game of Thrones (2011-19) and True Detective (2014-19) since his only other feature directing credit, 2010’s Repo Men, smartly keeps the focus on Finch, Jeff, and Goodyear, backgrounding the more fantastical elements to keep us firmly locked into the emotional journey playing out.
The end result is a solid programmer that derives much of its power from the small cast’s deft, committed performances. I suspect Finch might have died a death if released traditionally, but it’s perfect Sunday afternoon streaming fodder. Watch it with your dad.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by Travis Johnson